Bulgaria to renew aging chopper fleet

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will award a $100 million contract for upgrading its military helicopter fleet within the next month to either Britain’s BAE Systems or European aerospace firm EADS, a government official said yesterday. In April, Bulgaria said it was in talks with BAE, Israeli and Russian firms to modernize its aging Soviet-made helicopter fleet of some 30 MI aircraft as part of the NATO member designate’s first offset deal. «We have been holding talks with a number of companies, but I consider as the most likely winner either BAE or EADS, as they could meet best the offset deal conditions,» Foreign Investment Agency head Pavel Ezekiev told Reuters. Under offset deals, major government contracts are linked to obligations for the winner to invest in the country. Such deals have already been implemented in more advanced central European states which joined NATO in the first round of the Western military alliance’s eastward expansion in 1999. Ezekiev said a possible sector in which the contract winner could invest was machine-building. The winner might also fund pollution cleanup projects or programs that would create jobs for former military personnel who were laid off as part of government plans to downsize the Bulgarian army to meet NATO requirements, he said. The small Balkan state, which last year won an invitation to join NATO in 2004, has been struggling to revamp its cash-strapped Soviet-style armed forces to bring them up to NATO standards and attract much-needed foreign investment. Representatives from BAE, EADS, Lockheed Martin Corp, General Dynamics Corp and other international firms are due to take part in a one-day conference on investment opportunities in Sofia on Monday.

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